December 19, 2004

Not the Root Cause 

It is common wisdom that terrorism and violence are generated by poverty and economic exploitation, and thus if we only were less greed and imperialist, terrorism would just melt away.

Well, there are quite a few reasons to doubt of this vision of the problem. At the philosophical level, this infatuation for the "root cause" is a manifestation of teleology; as Steven Den Beste wrote:

[...]If the universe is orderly, and if it has some deep underlying purpose and unity, then if you understand that "final cause" well enough you should be able to predict its consequences directly. Thus you could create a complete description of the universe in what we now would consider "scientific" terms solely based on the fact that it would have to be a certain way. Anything else would be unclean and untidy and inelegant, and thus impossible – and therefore it would not be necessary to actually test any such conclusions. They were inevitable and had to be true.[...]

Karl Marx then provided a perfect specimen of final cause in regard to human behaviour: greed and wealth. But now we know that Marx, while he was quite right in his assessment of human nature, proposed a solution that has utterly failed, anytime and anywhere it was implemented. Now we know that human natural egoism has to be harnessed, not suppressed.

We also have to consider that reality is complex. As a scientist/engineer, I have to face complexity on a daily basis: problems that appear simple and linear at a first glance, are actually much more complex and intricated if examined thoroughly: you have conflicting priorities, inter-dependend phenomena, and basically a legion of devils hidden in the details. Thus, reconducting anything to a few root causes sounds preposterous to me.

Often the common explanation for terrorism* takes another complementary path, that is, the terrorism are motivated not only by poverty, but also by oppression and wrongs they had to endure in the past (at the hands of the White Western Men, of course). The tranzist current of thought, moreover, considers even the offence to the collective feelings of some group as an intolerable oppression. While oppression is somewhat quantifiable on an objective basis, offence to feelings is strictly related to individual/group perception, and thus unquantifiable on any objective scale.

In regard to our problem of ideologically-motivated terrorism, and specifically of Islamist terrorism, there are even more reason to doubt of the common explanations.

One is that, of all the populations and groups that suffered oppression at the hands of any other group, only a handful resorted to violent terrorist doctrine - and no other one of the same kind and magnitude of Islamists. The Japanese did not set off bombs in the USA in response to the firebombings and nuclear bombings; the Mexicans are not slaughtering American (gueros) tourists; Ethiopians never thought of hijacking Italian airplanes.

Another point to notice is that a lot of oppression and atrocities were committed by "coloureds" on other coloureds: the Rape of Nanking (I won't link to that; it's really sickening stuff) and the sexual enslavement of Korean women were perpetrated by the Japanese; Arab tribes happily massacred each other, and together they massacred Persians and Indians; the Mongols killed Arabs by the thousands; the Rwanda atrocity was a Blacks-on-Blacks matter; and if I remember correctly, even the pre-Colombian civilizations of South America often indulged in bloodshed. And many more cases.
And look, although the Chinese are not exactly friendly to the Japanese (but usually accept money from the Japanese tourists), I still have to see a Chinese suicide bomber in a Tokyo shopping mall.

Examining Bin Laden's speeches, one can notice that he rarely mentions poverty. It should not sound surprising, given that he thought Taliban's Afghanistan as the perfect Islamic state - and that was by no means a rich country.What Bin Laden and his ilk whine and seethe about is that the cultural influence of the West is leading good Muslims astray from the good Islamic life, and the presence of American soldiers in Arabia is a defilment of the sacred Islamic land, as it is the presence of a tiny Jewish state (in an area where the Arabs arrived late, and not pacifically). That is all the oppression the Islamists have to endure at the hands of the Whites, in their minds.

But if these explanations are not enough, there are even more accurate case and statistical studies on the phenomenon.

One, Understanding Terror Networks, studied the biographies of 400 terrorists who targeted the US, in order to perform a social-network analysis of the group. Most of them do not come from the poor and desperate masses:

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.
Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

They were rich, well-off, and educated. And they chose violence anyway. My idea is that at least a significant fraction of them were inherently evil - yes, I believe that some people are evil and actually enjoy harming other people. Another reason is that they were experincing a loss of identity, a void that they tried to fill by joining a gang - the gang of the Warriors of Allah. However, this study tackles the problem from the point of view of forensic psychiatry, and that's by no means an exact science.

In another study, Harvard's professor Alberto Abadie, examined the correlation between terrorism (international and domestic) with poverty... and found none.
Instead, he found that the level of ideologically-motivated violence is highest where freedom is lower - except in very repressive regimes which can keep people under control through a police state. As it is reported:

"In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it's not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism, as previous studies have shown, but perhaps more surprisingly also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin," Abadie said.
Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the severity of terrorism. Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.

Some readers on LGF criticized Abadie for not stating that Islam is a cause of terrorism, but I think they are missing the point: the scope of this study was to investigate the correlation (or lack thereof) between poverty and terrorism, not to say what exactly is the cause of violence. Another not surprising finding of this work is that also geography plays a role: areas of difficult access can constitute safe havens for terrorists, guerrillas and the like.

It should be clear now that if there is a root cause of violence, that's not poverty (I believe that it's the evil in the heart of men)**. Thus, funnelling even more money to purely assistential projects will not work, and neither "respecting Islamic sensibilities" will.

The combatants need to be defeated militarily - killed, to make it short. And we need to win the meme war as well, to spread the ideas of individual freedom and democracy, justice, personal responsibility and government accountability that made the West a much better place to live than many others - as fellow blogger Jinnderella never tires to say.

* In this case, I am using terrorism with the common (but improper) meaning of politically-motivated violence against non-combatants.

** I got carried away while writing: not even the evil in the heart of men is the root cause of violence. I think it is the main cause, but there are other factors. Among them, convenience and opportunity...(12/01/2005)


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?